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Two years of trouble trying to switch flat

Local | Sophie Hui Nov 14, 2017
A death in a family in a Housing Department flat led to a request for a new home - and two years of trouble for the grieving relatives.

The death was traumatic enough for a family member to require psychological treatment and for both the Housing Department and Social Welfare Department to agree the family should be resettled.

The family applied to move in November 2014. The Housing Department referred the case to Social Welfare, which recommended the family be moved to another flat in the estate but with a different layout. The Social Welfare Department then washed its hands of the case.

A year later, in October and December 2015, the Housing Department allocated two flats with different layouts to the family - which rejected them due to their similarity with their old apartment.

The following January, Housing officials wrote to the Social Welfare Department asking for a social worker to accompany the family to visit the flats to see if they met the family's needs. The Housing Department could not arrange a bigger flat with a different layout unless there were very special social grounds.

But an SWD service center called the Housing Department to clarify the referral purpose and asked it to obtain the family's consent again.

However, the service center didn't contact the family after the Housing Department submitted written consent in March 2016, and the Ombudsman received a complaint from the family in September.

The family finally moved to a new flat with a different layout last month.

The Ombudsman said it is reasonable for the Housing Department to ask the SWD to assess the case as it needed to allocate housing resources in a prudent and fair manner. "However, the handling by the SWD and the service center was far from satisfactory," Ombudsman Connie Lau Yin-hing said.

The watchdog criticized the department and its service center for stubbornly adhering to the procedural requirements of the referral system, rather than considering the family's needs.

"We don't think the service center should insist on the Housing Department repeating the set procedure for subsequent referrals, which eventually delayed the family getting a new assessment and recommendation," Lau said.

"For social services in particular, we consider people, instead of procedures, should always come first."

The watchdog also said there were communication issues between the two departments as they had different stories on telephone communications, which bordered on finger-pointing at each other.

Director of Social Welfare Carol Yip Man-kuen said there is room for improvement in communications between NGOs and the Housing Department, and her department would have in-depth discussions with HD on the referral system.

But Yip said there is consensus on obtaining clients' consent when reopening a case, as the situations may have changed.

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October 2018